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CHURNET VALLEY CONSERVATION SOCIETY

                       protecting and conserving this natural area of outstanding beauty

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2018

April

A Whiston resident has elicited the following response from the Planning Inspectorate in relation to the forthcoming Public Enquiry


"The Planning Inspectorate’s statutory role does not commence until a plan is submitted under the terms of section 20 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, for independent examination

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The council are intending to submit its plan at the end of June 2018. In accordance with the statutory requirements we will then appoint an Inspector to examine the Staffordshire Moorlands Local Plan.


The appointed Inspector will look at both the legal compliance and soundness of the plan. The matter of the adequacy of the pre submission plan preparation stages and compliance with the regulations relating to public engagement will be considered by the Inspector.


 All those who have an interest in the plan will have had an opportunity to make a representation(s) on the published plan and indicate whether they wish to exercise the legal right to be heard at the examination. Section 20(6) of the Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 states that providing “Any person who makes representation seeking to change a development plan document must (if he so requests) be given the opportunity to appear before and be heard by the person carrying out the examination”.  As such, there will be a fair and open forum for any person that has expressed their desire to use their legal right to raise concerns at the appropriate stage of the examination hearing sessions.


When the plan is submitted an independent Programme Officer will be appointed to assist the Inspector, and their details will be put onto the council website. You may wish to contact the Programme Officer at that time providing your representations were sent within the consultation period set out by the council". 


March

Following a meeting in December with Karen Bradley the MP for the Staffordshire Moorlands the Committee resolved to persue her advice on the Moneystone Quarry development and complain to the Ombudsman. This matter is now underway and details will be posted on the website soon.


January

At the January CVCS meeting the members present resolved to contiue the fight against the Moneystone development, the reasoning for our position is set out below:


The CVCS Perspective on the Appeal hearing in November last year


This account of what went on at the hearing has to be prefaced by a big vote of thanks to all CVCS members who took the time and trouble to write to the Government Inspectorate at Bristol before the actual hearing took place at SMDC last November.

Undoubtedly it was the weight of numbers of those emails and letters that helped secure a proper public hearing where all the interested parties could voice their arguments before a

highly qualified and experienced Planning Inspector who oversaw matters acting in a quasi judiciary role, listening to all the evidence in an unbiased, neutral capacity and then delivering a verdict.

Needless to say the developers Laver Leisure had pushed hard beforehand to avoid such an open, public debate and had opted for a decision purely by written submissions. They had also compounded the strategy by insisting that the refusal appeal be mixed together with a permission already granted which was claimed to have addressed some of the key issues

that lay at the heart of the opposition to the scheme overall.

That permission itself was under scrutiny and subject to a judicial review and evidence that would have emerged at the appeal hearing cast further doubt on upon its validity.

 

So, in the end, the scene was set for proper airing of the contentious evidence relating to the whole scheme and CVCS was represented as member of the group of rule 6 witnesses who were entitled to make formal, legal submissions and cross examine “expert” witnesses involved in the case on behalf of the main parties SMDC and the developers. It also was allowed to produce its own expert witnesses particularly upon traffic and road safety at the hearing. 

 

The other rule 6 witnesses attending consisted of representatives of two local parish councils, Kingsley and Ipstones, Whiston Action group and a private individual. Oakamoor Parish Council was also adamantly against the proposed development and had submitted a statement and a witness to present it during the course of the hearing which was scheduled to last 5-6 days.   

The fact that there were actually five groups of rule 6 witnesses at the hearing itself was remarked upon by the Inspector himself as unusual and thus indicative of the strength and significance of the opposition to the scheme.

 

In accordance with the strict protocol, all parties to the hearing had had to submit all their case evidence in writing before the hearing itself was held in the SMDC Council Chamber in Leek, together with a synopsis of the full reports which would be presented ‘live’ to the Inspector and all those attending, including members of the public in the gallery.

 

Once again grateful thanks must be given to all those CVCS supporters who were there and some of whom had also elected to speak.

 

For its part, CVCS had submitted three very detailed statements of case to the Inspector, focussing mainly upon traffic and transport problems, as well as the impact upon heritage and listed buildings.

 

On the former it stressed the unsuitability of the local roads to absorb the amount of traffic that the site needed to be viable and the environmental impact that it would have upon the villages of Oakamoor and Whiston and the surrounding areas. It questioned the weakness of the data provided by the developer which had not been properly tested by the highway authority at Staffordshire County Council; the road safety issues at the junction of Whiston Eaves lane and the A52; the impact upon the newly designated Oakamoor Conservation area by traffic accessing the site through the centre of Oakamoor in both directions, plus the risks of accidents on the 1 in 5 steep hill up Carr bank and the very narrow winding Eaves lane.

 Above all else, along with the other rule 6 witness statements, it emphasised that the site was unsustainable in terms of the SMDC’s own Core Strategy planning legislation as it had no alternative transport strategy.

Indeed, CVCS was able to show that in 2013 the Council and its planning officers had also identified the site as remote and had recognised because its viability was reliant purely on increased car use, it was not sustainable according to its own criteria as defined by its Core Strategy for sustainable tourism and sustainable development. 

Yet, inexplicably and without any significant improvement or alteration to those overriding conditions, by 2014 onwards SMDC had continually acquiesced in favour of the developers contrary to its own principles, and despite the vehement opposition of all the local parish councils and residents. 

  

The Government Planning Inspector however had recognised the shortcomings of the scheme having reviewed all the evidence that had been submitted to him in advance of the hearing, and thus made it abundantly clear to everyone from the onset of the planning inquiry hearing where the main problems lay; too much traffic generation and the accompanying damaging environmental impact upon the local road network.

 

In the end, however, much to the frustration of all the rule 6 witnesses, and probably to the relief of SMDC who had incurred much public criticism levelled at its collusion with the developers,   Laver Leisure withdrew from the appeal proceedings as it was entitled to do and so the finalities were never properly concluded.

 

There were two reasons for this abrupt action; damage limitation and need.

 

 From our perspective it was clear from what had transpired, that had the Inquiry reached full term, the Inspector would have refused the appeal anyway as the evidence emerged and witnesses struggled under cross examination, but sadly for us the need to proceed further became redundant as news of the high court appeal ruling in the case of the judicial review emerged whereby Laver could obtain outline permission via that decision instead.

 

 It was doubly unfortunate for CVCS and its fellow rule partners because the appeal had  allowed all the evidence to be properly presented and thoroughly examined by an Inspector who was not only suitably well versed in all the subtleties of the planning laws, but, more importantly, had reviewed the broader issues, and from his site inspection and acquired knowledge of the  local topography and other issues, had much more of an understanding of the problems relating to the site strategically in the context of Churnet Valley and had thus raised and appreciated  the environmental issues and the case for the opposition.

Whereas the judge who had dealt with the judicial review proceedings had concentrated simply upon the procedural technicalities and thus had had a more restricted focus without the benefit of all the wider issues at stake.

Indeed our observations at the court hearing in Manchester left us in no doubt that he was very indifferent to the wider long term issues and their effects, and he certainly had very scant background information about the site itself as he had not been the original judge assigned to the case and had not even studied the plans of the site.

 

However, by that lesser means Laver have now obtained its outline permission and so our focus will now have to shift towards the more detailed planning applications that will follow and ensuring that pressure can be maintained upon SMDC to scrutinise them properly before further decisions are taken, so that the best can be made of a bad job, so to speak.

 

We have been encouraged by the Inspector’s responses to the arguments we have all presented and continue to believe that the overall decision by SMDC to allow the development is fundamentally wrong.

 

The committee of CVCS will therefore continue the fight to obtain the best protection we can for the local environment and we hope you too as members will continue to support our mutual causes and work as hard as we can to right a situation that back in November last year the Government Planning Inspector remarked upon as being inappropriate.

 

2017:

November

The Judicial Review on the application SMD/2016/0378 has failed at the High Court. This news came through on the 8th November which was the second day of the Public Enquiry for the appeal by Laver Leisure against the refusal of application SMD/2014/0682. At this point the appeal was withdrawn by Laver as they had the approval for the slightly modified development. The scheme cannot go ahead until the detailed application for all reserved matters is approved by the Council.